13 June 2006

Presidential candidate visits Chapala, touts economic policies

Story by : DAVID AGREN

Like a white knight – who arrived in a white SUV – Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, presidential candidate for the left-leaning Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), rode into Chapala last Friday, promising to rescue the country’s largest lake, which is often in an imperiled environmental state.

“We’re going to save Lake Chapala,” he told a boisterous crowd assembled in front of the town parish. Virtually all the presidential candidates promised to help Chapala, but Lopez Obrador was the only candidate to actually visit the town in 2006.

But along with riding to Lake Chapala’s rescue, Lopez Obrador also pledged to ease the financial predicaments of Mexico’s poorest families through schemes that critics charged would drag Mexico back to the 1970s, a period of extreme financial turbulence brought on by presidents indulging anti-business agendas. Shortly before visiting Chapala, the PRD candidate unveiled his economic policies, which, if implemented, would freeze prices, extend credit on easy terms and boost the incomes of poor families by 20 percent.

“We’re going to reduce the prices of electricity, gas and gasoline all across Mexico,” he said. “We’re going to guarantee prices for producers in the countryside ... we’re going to give credit.

"Bankers don't give credit to producers."

Lopez Obrador broached the banking topic frequently, invoking the ghosts of Fobaproa, a government bailout of the financial services industry after the last peso crash in the mid 1990s.

The intervention, which PRD supports said benefited wealthy financiers, still grates many middle- and lower-class Mexicans, who barely scraped by during the peso devaluation. Lopez Obrador repeatedly links Fox and the PAN with the scandal, even though it occurred during an Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) presidency.

"Because he received money from bankers ... (Fox) really hasn't accomplished anything," Lopez Obrador said.

Dressed in a trademark guayabara shirt – white, appropriately enough – and dress pants, the former Mexico City mayor struck back at critics of his proposals, saying, "I'm not an enemy of entrepreneurs ... or an enemy of people who invest money and create jobs."

Additionally, he reiterated his plan for giving seniors and single mothers monthly cash stipends – something he implemented during his term as Mexico City mayor.

Mural columnist Sergio Sarmiento was among the skeptics of Lopez Obrador's proposals. He politely pointed out, "The last time we had something like this was in 1982, when [former president] Jose Lopez Portillo ordered a 30 percent increase in salaries, which produced a subsequent economic collapse."

The PRD campaign rolled through Jalisco on a slight upswing; most public opinion polls showed Lopez Obrador closing in on National Acion Party candidate Felipe Calderon. Lopez Obrador insisted, though, “We’re 10 points ahead of the other campaigns.

He disparaged the mainstream polls and pollsters, saying, “(It’s) a war in the media.”

Lopez Obrador offered no proof of his supposed advantage. One spectator at the rally branded the unfavorable polls a “conspiracy.”

Along with spelling out his agenda, Lopez Obrador feted the PRD’s Jalisco candidates, who garnered mixed reviews from the audience. The crowd jeered gubernatorial candidate Enrique Ibarra, who until recently was a high-ranking PRI official. Jaime Mexia, the PRD aspirant for Chapala city hall drew cheers when he announced, “The first thing I’ll do is turn down my mayor’s salary.”

Lopez Obrador left the stage quickly after the event ended, putting little time into working the crowd (he had scheduled a rally for Ocotlan later that afternoon). A large group, though, chased his white SUV down the Malecon.

From the Guadalajara Reporter

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